With a steady, soul-piercing stare, Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee has carefully surveyed the scene at every game inside Baggett Stadium for the last 16 seasons and counting.
Throughout his journey with the Mustangs, Lee lifted the team to its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and returned to the postseason again in 2013 and 2014 in back-to-back 40-plus win campaigns. He earned the Big West Coach of the Year in 2014 and even coached the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in 2017.
Now, after the Mustangs’ April 20 win over Long Beach State, Lee has passed another monumental milestone in his coaching career with more than 500 wins as Cal Poly’s head coach.
Unsurprisingly, Lee was not very interested in relishing in the personal achievement, nor did he take much credit for the accomplishment.
“[I am] just interested in how we are doing this year,” Lee said. “I never really think about career things. It’s probably something that I’ll look back on when its all over.”
Lee is a proven mentor who has developed dozens of players into major league talent. Since 2005, 28 former Cal Poly baseball players have signed a professional contract after leaving San Luis Obispo, all under Lee’s tutelage.
“It’s about the team, it’s about the players,” Lee said. “When you have good players it makes you look good as a coach. My job is to try and develop them as well as myself and my staff can.”
In last summer’s draft, two more Mustangs, pitchers Spencer Howard and Erich Uelmen, were drafted in the top five rounds of the draft. Currently, Lee’s best-performing alumni in the MLB is Seattle Mariners’ right-fielder Mitch Haniger, who was also a first-round pick in 2012.
While many former Mustangs are working their ways through the minor leagues in hopes of ending up where Haniger is, Lee takes a relatively hands-off approach when communicating with his former players.
“We stay in touch, but not on a consistent basis,” Lee said. “It’s their livelihood, I stay away from it unless they need some advice for something. I throw out the occasional text if they do something well, but usually, I just watch from afar.”
All of Lee’s accomplishments and success have created an expectation of winning, dominance and professionalism both on and off the field for Cal Poly baseball players. According to Lee, instilling this mindset in the young players on the team is one of his main keys to becoming a perennial powerhouse.
“You tell the stories of the progression and their journey through the minor leagues,” Lee said. “There are some very motivating stories about what it took to get there and the discipline and the sacrifice. If you want to play at the highest level possible for your skills, you have to put in the necessary time and this is what the individual players did before you.”
Despite all of his prior success, Lee’s passion for developing young players into major league talent has never wained. While Lee might not have been pressing to reach win 500, his current players pressed a little more to earn this particular win.
“Coach Lee is like another dad to us,” senior designated hitter Elijah Skipps said. “We really wanted to get it done at Pepperdine, his alma mater. It didn’t work out but we were glad that we not only got the 500th win but ended up sweeping Long Beach as well.
As a San Luis Obispo native, Lee attended San Luis Obispo High School before earning his bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine. He returned to his old stomping grounds for a master’s program at Cal Poly, finishing the program in 1985.
Given his deep roots in the Central Coast, Lee doesn’t outwardly show any desire to coach elsewhere.
“I don’t really think about it,” Lee said. “As long as I enjoy coaching here, I would like to get this program back to the point it was a few years ago. That’s really all I’m thinking about at this point in time.”